Court orders a lawyer to pay N1.5 billion to Gov Udom Emmanuel over libelous publication and publish public apology
A High Court sitting at Uyo Judicial Division has ordered Leo Leo Ekpenyong (who is believed to be an associate of a former Governor of the state) to pay the sum of N1.5 Billion Naira ( One Billion , Five Hundred Million Naira ) as cost of damages to the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Deacon Udom Emmanuel over libelous publications in an online newspaper by the defendant.
The said Order was made in Suit No: HU/279/2019 between Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel ( Claimant ) V Leo Ekpenyong Esq. ( Defendant ) in the High Court of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria in the Uyo Judicial Division Holden at Uyo.
Recalled that on September 11, 2019, the National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal sitting in Uyo had upheld the election of Senator Chris Ekpenyong, against the petition brought before it by defeated Senator Akpabio.
In dismissing the suit in a majority judgement, Chairman of the Panel, Justice W. O. Akanbi ruled that Akpabio could not provide sufficient evidence to upturn the result of the election.
However Leo Ekpenyong in an effort to please his principal for alleged selfish gains, had immediately alleged in an online newspaper, Metrodailyng.com, that Governor Udom Emmanuel bribed the tribunal judges with $1.5m to secure judgements against the defeated Senator Akpabio in the Akwa Ibom North West senatorial district elections.
This fresh Judgment Order against Ekpenyong at the High Court which was given by Hon. Justice E. F. F. Obot and signed by Mbebe S. Albert Esq. (Asst. Director ) reads ” At the Pre Trial Conference held in respect of this suit before this Honourable Court on the 15th of December, 2020 ” .
” After Hearing, Inimfon Eddie, Esq. of Counsel for the claimant applying to the Court to invoke the provisions of Order 25 Rule 6 (b) of the Akwa Ibom State High Court (Civil Procedure ) Rules, 2009 in view of the defendant who was absent , unrepresented and substantially unprepared to participate in the Pre-trial Conference, the application is granted as prayed ” .
The Court consequently ordered the defendant to : ( 1 ) pay the sum of N1.5 Billion Naira ( One Billion , Five Hundred Million Naira ) only to the claimant as general damages . ( 2 ) that the defendant shall write and publish an apology to the claimant in the said on-line Newspaper called METRODAILY NG. COM used by the defendant to publish the libelous article. ( 3 ) that the defendant shall pay to the claimant the sum of #100,000.00 ( One a Hundred Thousand Naira ) as cost of this action.
While the court also relied on its jurisdiction over the matter, the decision was however, largely consequent upon the deliberate refusal of the defendant to appear in court to defend the claims against him despite several adjournments at his instance.
Ekpenyong had in October 2019 escaped from police custody after being granted administrative bail by the police, to undergo medical attention on the premise that he was sick and disappeared into thin air, without making an appearance in court as agreed, warranting his being declared wanted by the police.
The charges against Leo Ekpenyong include, publication of offensive material, false publication and false statements, that violate several sections of the state internal security law.
The former Attorney General of the State Barr Uwemedimo Nwoko, had urged Ekpenyong to substantiate his claims within seven days on national media or face legal actions.
Leo Ekpenyong is said to be a strong ally of Senator Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, and may have been banking on the huge connections of the former governor to secure his release from his present ordeal.